- Since this article was published, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced all non-life-sustaining businesses should be closed. (3/19/20)
Have you heard the news? Gov. Tom Wolf ordered a statewide shutdown in Pennsylvania. Or did he?
Short answer: No. He didn’t.
But “all” the news is repeating it, so it must be true. We found two examples locally and hundreds more around the state.
Here’s the local daily:
To their credit, they’re parroting Associated Press copy here. But still …
Well, we’re in a forgiving mood so we’ll commend them on tearing down the paywall for their coronavirus coverage.
And then, there’s SkookNews.com, a source we sometimes cited here. They rushed out with this parroted tweet as we watched the same press conference many others in Pennsylvania watched today.
A Google search for “Pennsylvania shutdown” brings up plenty of familiar sources: the Philadelphia Inquirer, NBC News, The Centre Daily Times, upstart LehighValleyLive.com, et al … They’re all repeating it.
Today, likely, in all these newsrooms, they sat with mouse arrow poised over the Publish button ready to announce this big shutdown order.
Then, they did. And Pennsylvania business owners collectively shit themselves.
Luckily, someone stood up and spared a square of toilet paper when they needed it most.
The Pennsylvania Coronavirus Shutdown Order That’s Not a Shutdown Order
Now, we’re not calling those sources #FakeNews. OK, maybe the AP and the Inquirer.
But the “Pennsylvania shutdown order” is definitely #FakeNews right now and passing it on as such is making an already tense situation unnecessarily more tense.
Just a few hours after Gov. Tom Wolf’s press conference today, State House Republican leaders issued a clarification on the narrative coming out of it.
They say they had to because “hundreds of business owners in Pennsylvania” contacted them “blind-sided” and confused about the news they’d heard or read.
“Media reports statewide have mischaracterized the order,” they say and it’s caused a panic among business owners. They urged the Governor to issue a clarification.
“Instead business owners, many of whom have already made massive changes to protect themselves and clients from spreading the virus, shuttered their doors,” House GOP members add.
Clearing Up Confusion
“First, the governor has not mandated the immediate closure of any businesses in Pennsylvania. He has ‘strongly urged’ that ‘non-essential’ businesses shut down as part of social distancing measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus,” House Republicans say.
At the same time, the GOP leadership in the House isn’t dismissing the apparent serious nature of COVID-19 coronavirus. In fact, they opened their statement complimenting both Wolf and the Trump administration for their handling of the situation so far.
“We are encouraged by the efforts of the Trump and Wolf administrations to slow the spread of COVID-19. Information regarding the virus and its widespread implications can become confusing at times, and we applaud the efforts of state and federal health officials to keep all citizens safe and informed,” they say.
However, they also say, “We agree this is a time to limit exposure to large groups of people, but if you, or a business owner you know, wishes to remain in business, it is their right to do so.”
Restaurants and Bars Stipulation
The only exception to their statement, they admit, are bars and restaurants. Since they’re regulated by the Dept. of Health and the PLCB, they do have to follow the Governor’s “order” here to stop dine-in services. However, Gov. Wolf extends them a lifeline by allowing restaurants and pubs to offer food take-out and delivery to hopefully stay afloat.
Gov. Wolf issued the clarification requested by the House GOP. Indeed, he said that what’s in place statewide right now is not an ordered shutdown as it’s widely reported.
“Earlier today, the Wolf Administration strongly urged non-essential businesses across the state to close for at least 14 days to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The governor’s request protects employees, customers, and suppliers and limits the spread of the virus through personal contact and surfaces,” the Wolf administration statement reads.
Dept. of Community and Economic Development Sec. Dennis Davin clarified, “We strongly urge non-essential businesses across the commonwealth to do their part by temporarily closing as we work to flatten the curve and protect the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians,” said DCED Secretary Dennis Davin. “We understand that businesses are an economic driver throughout Pennsylvania, and a temporary closure will be a financial and community disruptor. DCED is committed to working with the business community to provide helpful resources for financial assistance.”
“Essential Business” in Pennsylvania
“Strongly urge” is not an order.
And the biggest question of all is: What’s an essential business?
They try to clarify that but there’s so much gray area here. You could make an argument for nearly every business being essential in some way.
Here’s what they list as “non-essential” businesses:
- Public-facing industries such as entertainment, hospitality, and recreation facilities: Including but not limited to community and recreation centers; gyms, including yoga, barre, and spin facilities; hair salons and barber shops, nail salons and spas; casinos; concert venues; theaters; sporting event venues and golf courses, and shopping malls.
To clarify, restaurants and bars that serve food are temporarily prohibited from serving alcohol to patrons who walk in and order take-out.
“Eating and drinking inside restaurants and bars is temporarily prohibited,” the clarified statement reads explicitly.
There are literally hundreds of other types of businesses not included on that list. And even among those restricted, there are exceptions, such as shopping malls that have a pharmacy inside.
Here’s what is suggested as an essential business or service by the state:
- Food processing
- Industrial manufacturing
- Feed mills
- Trash collection
- Grocery and household goods (including convenience stores)
- Home repair/hardware and auto repair
- Pharmacy and other medical facilities, biomedical and healthcare
- Post offices and shipping outlets
- Gas stations
- Veterinary clinics and pet stores
- Storage and distribution
- Public transportation
- Hotel and commercial lodging
Don’t see your business or your employer’s type of business on this list? Like we said, you could make a case for so many business types being essential.
Some businesses are “encouraged” to have employees telecommute or work from home during this “shutdown” that’s not a shutdown. They include:
- Legal services
- Business and management consulting
- Professional services
- Insurance services
“Although these businesses may remain open, the Wolf Administration continues to encourage them to employ social distancing practices, and encourages Pennsylvanians to be thoughtful in their visits,” the Wolf administration says.
Wolf’s Ace Card
Now, there are powers the Governor holds to compel the businesses listed above to close. Running out in strict defiance of the recommendations and encouragements here could make things worse than they already are for business owners.
The clarified statement makes that clear from the Wolf administration. It reads, “The Wolf Administration is relying on businesses to act now before the governor or the Secretary of Health finds it necessary to compel closures under the law for the interest of public health, including section 7301 of the Emergency Management Services Code.”
We’re starting to see these efforts take hold in California, and to some degree, in Philadelphia, which is operating under the City’s own orders for businesses. No one wants this now and no one certainly wants that here in Schuylkill County or anywhere in Pennsylvania.
As scary as that last part sounds, there are provisions in the State Constitution that could force a reversal of any such order from Wolf. Let’s just hope it doesn’t have to come to that.
In the meantime, business owners are already worried about their futures and the futures of their employees right now. Everyone is, really.
Spreading misinformation regarding COVID-19 coronavirus and the government’s reaction to it is irresponsible and can lead to unnecessary panic. And it could lead to lost wages and jobs. No one needs any of that on top of the worry and panic that’s top of everyone’s mind right now.
This all happened because one media outlet reported something and then others followed their lead. Parroting the “news” is not news.
We hope going forward that clarifications caused by a news media in a rush to beat each other to the first click aren’t necessary. And we hope this is due to a rush to be first and not any more signs that the media is somehow rooting for the virus to spread.
FOR MORE …
SPECIAL SECTION: Coronavirus in Schuylkill County